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Heavily pregnant Vidya Bagchi (Vidya Balan), a London-based computer software designer, arrives in Calcutta in search of her husband Arnab, who seems to have disappeared while on a business trip to the city. Immediately upon arrival, she visits a police station to report him missing. The police appear inefficient, possibly incompetent, but a young officer known as Rana (Parambrata Chatterjee), takes pity on her.
He drives Vidya to the address at which her husband was staying, and on the way explains how everyone in Calcutta has two names: an official name and a pet name. This duality is an integral component of Sujoy Ghosh’s intricate and convoluted tale which borrows heavily from Western film technique and appears to be striving for a style reminiscent of Hitchcock.
The hotel manager has no record of Arnab, but Vidya insists on staying in the room in which her husband told her he was staying. From there, she orchestrates a determined search of the city, enlisting the aid of the young police officer who slowly
develops a romantic attachment to her despite her advanced pregnancy. Vidya’s first visit is to the National Data Centre, where Arnab was supposed to be working, but the HR officer there has no recollection of her husband. The school he was supposed to have attended as a boy also has no record of him. Nor can the police find his name on the passenger list of the flight he was supposed to have arrived on.
Despite this absence of proof that Arnab ever visited the places identified by Vidya, she and Rana slowly, and with admirable ingenuity and a touch of luck, chip away at what initially appear to be impenetrable obstacles, and also overcome the aggressive discouragement of Khan (Nawazuddin Siddiqui), a bad tempered intelligence officer. The couple discover that her husband looked like a man called Milan Damji, who worked at NDC two years before and suddenly disappeared. Khan insists Damji doesn’t exist, but Vidya refuses to be swayed.
Kahaani, which translates to ‘Story’ in English, is one of those movies that periodically delivers small, frustratingly inconclusive parcels of information, thus ensuring that audience interest is maintained throughout. Vidya is a daunting heroine who goes about the task of locating the husband she fears might be dead with a quiet, steely determination that belies her condition. Writer and director Sujoy Ghosh does a good job of keeping the tension and suspense bubbling as she does so, meting out action set-pieces at carefully calculated intervals, and placing our heroine in peril as those who don’t want her to succeed attempt to have her silenced for good. This strand of the story also introduces one of the movie’s most intriguing characters – albeit a relatively minor one. He’s a plump, out-of-shape hit-man called Bob Biswas (Saswata Chatterjee) who has a touch of Peter Lorre about him in the way he smiles politely as he confirms the identity of his victims before killing them. Ghosh also takes time to capture the flavour of Calcutta, a teeming metropolis filled with heat and noise, in a thriller that, given its avoidance of cliched Bollywood song-and-dance numbers and saturated colours, can stand comparison with most contemporary Western thrillers.
(Reviewed 10th February 2013)